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[01 MAR 99] THE BLACKROOM - THE STORY OF 2-TONE AND THE SELECTER

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To kick off the blackroom and just generally introduce myself, I thought it would be a good idea to give my perspective on the beginnings of 2-tone in Coventry and a brief history of The Selecter.

1999 sees the 20th anniversary of the 2-Tone Movement, which spearheaded the introduction of the infectious ska beat into the British pop charts and paved the way for all multi-cultural bands since.

I was lucky enough to have been living in Coventry at the time. Coventry is, and always will be, the home of 2-tone. Much has been written about why it happened here; mostly wordy sociological theses about the ‘concrete jungle’ of inner city areas and the loss of the massive Midlands motor industry in the seventies.

All of this is true; Coventry was a motown in decline when The Specials and The Selecter were packing audiences in at the Locarno in town (now Coventry City Library)!

The members of both bands had lived in Coventry for years, so we all knew about what was going on. This probably helped to make so many of those songs truthful and memorable to the thousands of other young people all over the country who were experiencing mass unemployment for the first time.

2-tone emblemThe 2 Tone Story of The Selecter

The Selecter began life in 1977, with a song written and performed by Neol Davies (guitar) and John ‘Prince Rimshot’ Bradbury (drums) and ably assisted by Barry Jones (then my local sweet-shop owner), on a truly glorious trombone solo.

This song was called The Selecter, a mournful ska/rocksteady track, which harked back to the Jamaican ska style of the sixties. This track had to wait on the shelf until 1979, when The Specials needed a ‘b-side’ for their debut single, Gangsters. Gerry Dammers, originator of all things 2-tone, decided that The Selecter would be ideal.

Neol Davies then thought it would be a good idea to form a band around the 2-tone idea pioneered by The Specials, but was unsure who to invite to join him. Members of local reggae band Hardtop 22, which was led by the dreadlocked and charismatic Charley Anderson, were interested in lending their services.

At that time, I was trying to form a band with Desmond Brown, ‘H’ and Lawton Brown and while we were rehearsing one evening up at The Wheatsheaf on Foleshill Road, Lynval Golding of The Specials turned up to listen. He must have liked what he heard, because I was invited round to Charley Anderson’s house in Hillfields, to meet Neol Davies.

Neol cut a very cool appearance in those days, mainly because he had a piece of vinyl with a song that he had written on it, which was roaring up the charts at the time. The Selecter was formed on that summer evening of 1979.

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The original band members were Neol Davies (lead guitar), Compton Amanor (rhythm guitar), Desmond Brown (keyboards), Charley Anderson (bass), Charles ‘H’ Bembridge (drums), Arthur ’Gaps’ Hendrickson (vocals) and me, Pauline Black, (also on vocals).

Frantic rehearsals were started at the Golden Cup (among numerous other pubs in Coventry), songs were written or changed to fit a ska style and within a few weeks we did our first gig in Gloucester. That evening was not an auspicious event, because we were all over the place, the sound system was appalling and we all needed some serious re-styling.

A few more weeks went by, while we continued rehearsals and got our clothes in order, before we did our first ‘proper’ gig, supporting The Specials at a now defunct club in Leeds, called The F Club. That gig always sticks in my memory, because the audience were up for the new sounds of The Selecter and we could feel something was really going to happen. Elvis Costello was hanging out at the bar and The Specials tore the place down that night.

Numerous other gigs, up and down the country, followed and we steadily built up a big audience. Our debut London gig was on 21 July 1979 at the Electric Ballroom. If you’d been there that night, then you could have seen us, The Specials, Madness and The Bodysnatchers all for the princely sum of 3. It was filled to capacity and it was so hot that the sweat was dripping off the ceiling.

By this time The Specials’s 2-tone label was up and running and they offered us a deal to record our first single. The sum involved for the recording of three tracks was 1000. Out of that session came our first single, On My Radio/Too Much Pressure, which went Top Ten in November 1979.

A massive sell-out 2-Tone Tour of Britain was next on the agenda, before recording our first album Too Much Pressure, at the now sadly demolished Horizon Studios in Coventry. In hindsight, this album was definitely the musical autobiography of The Selecter.

By mid 1980, the 2-Tone movement, as it was now called, had reached its height. All of the bands who were, or had been connected with the label -  The Selecter, The Specials, The Beat, Madness - had top 10 singles, sold out gigs and had a fanatical following.

The cult film Dance Craze highlights only too well how crazy things had become. We had achieved in a few short months what most bands take years to do. Things were happening way too fast and it was all becoming uncontrollable.

Our sudden success story, having to deal with constant touring schedules, clashes with racist fans, record company hassles from Chrysalis (who licensed the 2-tone label) and violence at the gigs. We managed to wade our way through the confusion somehow.

Meanwhile Too Much Pressure went gold, we sold out tours in Britain and Europe and had our first taste of the USA, during a hectic coast to coast two month tour in April 1980. But when we got back home the cracks had started to appear in 2-Tone. Gerry Dammers wanted to disband the label while it was still on top, because he thought it had become a monster. The Selecter decided to broaden its horizons. The difficult second album, still had to be recorded, so we left 2-tone in July 1980.

For us, it was the beginning of the end for The Selecter and 2-tone. Despite the themes of harmony and unity that filled our songs, we found it difficult to live that reality in the band. Desmond Brown and Charley Anderson left amid acrimonious scenes at Horizon Studios. They were replaced with James Mackie (keyboards) and Adam Williams (bass). This new line-up went into the studio to record the new second album, Celebrate The Bullet.

Celebrate the Bullet album coverThe title track Celebrate the Bullet is still my favourite song. But unfortunately due to bad timing on release Radio One banned it because a gunman had just shot Ronald Reagan and John Lennon had also recently been assassinated. Without airplay the album was doomed.

Despite a hard touring schedule, fans were becoming disinterested in 2-tone. Bands like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were now the national past-time and I decided that this new emerging scene had nothing to do with me or the music that I liked and I left The Selecter. Neol Davies valiantly carried the flag for a while longer, but finally realised it was time to call it a day.

READ THE SECOND PART OF THE STORY OF 2 TONE AND THE SELECTER - 1991-99
  

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CWN / the blackroom / 1 Mar 99 / The Story of 2-Tone & The Selecter

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM